A newcomer's map to the real Orlando music scene

Sound travels

The crowd goes off at Vanguard.
The crowd goes off at Vanguard. photo by Matt Keller Lehman

Welcome to Orlando. Truly, we mean that. No doubt, you've been seeing Florida a lot in the headlines lately. Just know that we're not all like those knuckle-dragging Gilead motherfuckers running things in Tallahassee. We're an out and inclusive city, especially in our music scene. And here's where you can get legitimately local.

Live music:

Between Hard Rock Live, House of Blues, Dr. Phillips Center, Orlando Amphitheater, Amway Center and Camping World Stadium, the major touring acts are covered. But those are just places to see concerts. A music scene, however, is where you're not just at shows but among the artists.

For that, the Mills 50 neighborhood — specifically, the 1000 block of Mills Avenue — is what you need to know first. Nothing embodies the essence of the city's underground like the gateway of Will's Pub and Uncle Lou's.

Will's is one of Orlando's most storied music institutions and arguably the de facto heart of the city's music scene. Most of the buzzworthy indie acts that come through are on the Will's Pub stage. Rock, punk, Americana, metal, electronic, rap — all of it happens here in a safe space where you'll rub elbows with the scene's musicians and movers. Add in intimate sister bar Lil Indie's and patio bar Dirty Laundry, where more intimate performances happen, and the Will's Pub mini-complex easily becomes one of Orlando's most high-value destinations for live music.

But Uncle Lou's a block down Mills is where Orlando's freak flag flies loudest. A true DIY dive, Lou's is the hothouse for the area's experimental and outsider artists. Between Will's and Lou's, you'll get the most happening, most authentic street-level snapshot of the Orlando music scene every night of the week.

In Audubon Park, Park Ave CDs — Orlando's flagship independent record shop — hosts in-store performances and appearances by local stars and touring indie names. Nearby Stardust Video & Coffee is a favorite neo-boho hangout featuring an eclectic range of music.

Another fertile hub is the burgeoning Milk District. The grand old Plaza Live packs a concert calendar on par with House of Blues. The native pulse in this neighborhood is in spots like Iron Cow and the Nook on Robinson, where interesting live events like the monthly Circuit Church and Please Understand music showcases happen.

Downtown, the Social and the Beacham are legendary next-door sister venues featuring primetime concerts and dance nights. In downtown's Thornton Park neighborhood, the Abbey is a nice mid-sized venue whose concert calendar has gotten conspicuously cooler lately. The most truly local experience downtown, though, is the Falcon, an intimate neighborhood art bar that occasionally hosts good underground bands.

Other noteworthy outposts of live music include the arty Henao Contemporary Center and the headbanging Haven Lounge. Due to its recent urban renaissance, nearby Sanford is also a notable frontier of the greater metro's live scene with leading stages like Tuffy's Music Box, which has featured the Drive By Truckers' Patterson Hood and North Mississippi Allstars, and the newly expanded West End Trading Co., where bands like Less Than Jake can be seen.

Dance music:

Maybe the dance floor's more your jam than a mosh pit? Well, what you may not, but now should, know about Orlando is that we've got deep dance-music heritage. During the 1990s rave revolution, Orlando was one of the world's premier dance scenes. Although those glory days are long past, vestiges not only remain but have seen recent revival.

Downtown's Ace Cafe occupies the hallowed space that was once legendary dance club the Edge. Now, it keeps the Edge's bass-booming spirit alive with old-school dance parties stacked with golden-era DJs like Josh Wink, DJ Dan, Frankie Bones and Micro. Their Backyard at the Ace outdoors space keeps the party moving, with a little more elbow room.

Nearby, the Vanguard is itself a recent overhaul of another holy spot from Orlando's club heyday. Originally the home to house-music mecca Club Firestone, a nightclub as globally famous and scene-defining as the aforementioned Edge, the Vanguard upholds the site's dance pedigree almost full-time. Unlike the throwback glory of the events at Ace, the Vanguard has a more forward foot into the modern EDM world, hosting names like Diplo, Steve Aoki, Flux Pavilion, Shaq Diesel and Subtronics.

Rounding out Orlando's dance scene are hotspots like iconic gay club Southern Nights, classic alternative bastion Barbarella, electronic music magnet Celine and hip-hop haven Tier.

Location Details

Amway Center

400 W. Church St., Orlando Downtown

800-745-3000

36 events 247 articles
Location Details

Camping World Stadium

1 Citrus Bowl Place, Orlando Downtown

407-423-2476

4 events 61 articles
Location Details

Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

445 S. Magnolia Ave., Orlando Downtown

844-513-2014

26 events 165 articles

Location Details

Hard Rock Live

6050 Universal Blvd., Orlando I-Drive/Universal

407-351-5483

48 events 169 articles
Location Details

House of Blues

Disney Springs, Lake Buena Vista Disney

407-934-2583

57 events 153 articles
Location Details

Will's Pub

1042 N. Mills Ave., Orlando Mills 50

44 events 643 articles
Location Details

LMGA Uncle Lou's Entertainment Hall

1016 N. Mills Ave., Orlando Mills 50

407-270-9104

3 events 79 articles
Location Details

Park Ave CDs

2916 Corrine Drive, Orlando Audubon Park

407-447-7275

40 articles
Location Details

Stardust Video and Coffee

1842 E. Winter Park Road, Orlando Audubon Park

407-623-3393

9 events 53 articles
Location Details

The Plaza Live

425 N. Bumby Ave., Orlando Milk District

407-228-1220

41 events 181 articles
Location Details

Iron Cow

2438 E. Robinson St., Orlando Milk District

2 events 34 articles
Location Details

The Nook on Robinson

2432 E. Robinson St., Orlando Milk District

2 events 38 articles

Location Details

The Social

54 N. Orange Ave., Orlando Downtown

407-246-1419

29 events 246 articles
Location Details

The Beacham

46 N. Orange Ave., Orlando Downtown

407-648-8363

37 events 136 articles
Location Details

The Abbey

100 S. Eola Drive, Orlando South Eola

407-704-6261

34 events 97 articles
Location Details

The Falcon

819 E. Washington St., Orlando Thornton Park

407-423-3060

13 events 35 articles
Location Details

Henao Contemporary Center

5601 Edgewater Drive, Orlando College Park

8 events 35 articles
Location Details

The Haven Lounge

6700 Aloma Ave., Winter Park Winter Park Area

407-673-2712

5 events 20 articles
Location Details

Tuffy's Music Box

200 Myrtle Ave., Sanford Sanford

4 events 3 articles
Location Details

West End Trading Company

202 S. Sanford Ave., Sanford North

407-322-7475

16 events 19 articles
Location Details

Ace Cafe

100 W. Livingston St., Orlando Downtown

407-996-6686

18 events 19 articles
Location Details

The Vanguard

578 N. Orange Ave., Orlando Downtown

5705920034

3 events 5 articles
Location Details

Barbarella

4141 N. John Young Parkway, Orlando College Park

407-839-0457

3 events 13 articles
Location Details

Celine Orlando

22 S. Magnolia Ave., Orlando Downtown

1 event 20 articles
Location Details

Southern Nights

375 S. Bumby Ave., Orlando Milk District

407-412-5039

2 events 6 articles
Location Details

Tier Nightclub

20 E. Central Blvd., Orlando Downtown

407-317-9129

9 articles

About The Author

Bao Le-Huu

Music columnist.
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